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20 Kislev 5766 - December 21, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Opinion & Comment
Reflections on Chanukah: The Light of the Torah During the Days of Chanukah

by HaRav Boruch Dov Povarsky

The gemora in Shabbos 21b asks: What is Chanukah?

When the Greeks entered the Beis Hamikdosh, they defiled almost all the oil. All that could be found was one cruse of oil, but a miracle happened and they were able to light the Menorah from it for eight days.

Was the main focus of the miracle upon the oil or upon the victory? We find that Al Hanissim only mentions the latter. Why then, did the Sages commemorate the miracle of the oil primarily, by lighting candles? They go on to explain that many make a mistake about the significance of the military victory.

Many falsely attribute the military victory to the might and prowess of the Jewish fighters and to their clever tactics, thereby diminishing the miracle itself, whereas the miracle of the oil was apparent for all to see. We must then, draw the comparison and conclude that just as the miracle of the oil was overt, no less was the military victory an open miracle of "many in the hands of few" etc. If we admit the one, we must admit the other as well.

Midrash Rabbah, Parshas Bereishis teaches: When the Torah states, "And the earth was without form," it is referring to the kingdom of Bovel. "And void," refers to the exile of the Medes. "And darkness," refers to the exile of the Greeks, who darkened the eyes of Israel through their decrees when they said: "Inscribe for yourselves, upon the horn of the ox, that you have no part in the G-d of Israel."

Further, it states that a river went forth from Eden from where it separated into four: The Pishon refers to Bovel. The second, the Gichon, represents Medea. Chidekel is Greece which was sharp (chad) and lightweight (kal) in its decrees. It used to say to Israel: "Inscribe for yourselves . . ."

Later, in the Bris Bein Habesorim, the "triple calf" represents Bovel, the triple goat stands for Medea and the triple ram is Greece. The commentaries pointed out that in Daniel (chapter 8) it states that the bird and the goat mentioned there are the king of Greece. Later, at the Bris Bein Habesorim it says that Hashem imposed a great, dark dread. "Dread" denotes Bovel and darkness is Greece which darkened the eyes of Israel with its decrees etc.

This entire excerpt needs an explanation. What is unique about the Greek exile? What is the meaning of: "Inscribe for yourselves upon the horn of the ox . . .?"


Midrash Tanchuma, Noach teaches: "`The people who walk in darkness saw a great light.' This refers to Torah scholars whose eyes Hashem illuminates to discern between what is forbidden and what is permissible." However, the Oral Torah is also referred to as `darkness,' with the same verse as reference. The understanding is that from the great darkness, from the obscurity — through great toil and effort in Torah study — one is able to see the light. The hidden light from the days of Creation is buried within the Oral Torah, and those who delve within energetically and toil over it are privy to discover it.

At Creation, there was darkness over the abyss and then Hashem said: "`Let there be light,' and there was light." This light originates in the Torah. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabbah 3:4) asks: From what was this light created? It tells that Hashem, as it were, cloaked Himself in this light and illuminated the entire world with it. The basis of the light [mentioned on the First Day] is the light of the Torah, which is rooted in the Oral Torah.

In Gittin 60b it is written: Said R' Yochonon: Hashem struck a covenant with Israel only for the sake of the Oral Torah, as it is written, "For by these things did I make a covenant with you and with Israel."

The brunt of the battle of Greece was aimed precisely against the Oral Tradition of the Torah. (In fact, they even translated the Written Torah into Greek.) This is why it says that they obscured the eyes of Israel. "The eyes of Israel" refers to the Sanhedrin, the High Court, which was the eyes of the people. They were the primary custodians of the Oral Torah in their day. The war which the Greeks fought was to abolish the power of Jewish Sages and darken the "eyes of Jewry."

Going back to the covenant between Hashem and Israel over the Oral Torah, it appears that `covenant' is a cleaving, a unification, where each side contributes something of itself to the alliance. The power of Torah is different from any science or branch of knowledge, since they remain external. But when a person studies Torah, he absorbs it within himself and becomes a veritable object of Torah. Torah shebe'al peh becomes the essence of the person.

This concept is expanded upon in the Maharal's Be'er Hagolah: One might ask why the covenant specifically involves the Oral Torah? This is because any covenant involves two sides which have some kind of essential link between them. However the written Torah lies deposited in the Ark and is not actually with a person, whereas the oral tradition is not only with him but the person himself actually becomes a Torah person (see the Maharal's further explanation). And this is what was said previously.

The very power of the Sanhedrin and of Jewish sages, who are the essence of the Oral Torah as the Rambam states, lies in the fact that they are the personification of Torah; the Torah is theirs. It is their very essence.

They were empowered to innovate and to determine the Torah law. All of their amendments and decrees have Divine authorization. Of them, was it said, "Both these and those are the words of the living G-d." This is the light of Torah which illuminates the entire world, whose inception and foundation lie in the Divine utterance of "`Let there be light' — and there was light." This was the light of Creation which was later cached away and stored within the Torah.

It was this light which the Greeks sought to extinguish, even though they, more than any other nation, were intellectuals, lovers of the arts and sciences. But their knowledge is wholly external and cerebral, not integrated into their being, and not affecting them in any personal way. We see that their physical behavior was purely indulgent, self- serving, epicurean, steeped in the pleasures of this world.

Indeed, it was precisely because they were "enlightened" and had wisdom that they were jealous of the Jews and their scholars. They were able to realize that the Jews were the true products of what they fervently believed in, homo sapiens par excellence, through and through. They could perceive that the Jews were baalei Torah, and possessed of an inner wisdom that penetrated to their essence, that is the true light. This light irritated them, and therefore their aim was to abolish Torah, principally the Oral Torah, and thereby, reduce the world back to darkness so that they need not be ashamed of their moral decrepitude.

This was the purpose of their pronouncement, "Inscribe for yourselves upon the horn of the ox that you have no portion in the G-d of Israel." They cannot be said to have denied a Creator; they even read the Written Torah which lay ensconced in its Ark. But we don't want you to have a part of the G-d of Israel. They did not want the Jews to be intrinsically part of the Torah and of Hashem Himself, as it were, and vice verse, that the Torah should be part of them. For it is known that the Torah Sages adhere to Hashem, they cleave unto Him and are, as it were, a part of Him. He is their portion and they are His portion and the Torah leaders have a tremendous impact upon the entire nation to likewise cleave unto Hashem.

The Maharal further explains why they chose the symbol of the ox — to recall the cheit ho'egel. It can be added here that the underlying reason for that sin was, also, not a negation of Hashem, but only of Moshe. "For the man, Moshe — we know not what has become of him." The Jews erred in denying Moshe who was the ish Elokim, closely bound to Hashem and he was a very part of the Torah to the degree that it is called Toras Moshe, or that the Shechinah verily spoke through Moshe, as Hashem's mouthpiece, as it were.

They sought to exchange Moshe Rabbenu for an intermediary of their own choice, and they made the eigel. This is complete severance, a nullification of the adherence to Hashem. The nation selects its leaders and representatives for itself. The Greeks said: "Inscribe upon the horn of the ox," the golden heifer, "that you have no portion . . . " Sever Hashem from His Torah, which is a very part and parcel of Him and of the Jewish people.

The Chashmonaim, the kohanim which Hashem also chose to be His portion and heritage, were likewise invested with the power of the Torah and its heritage for all time. As it is written, "They instruct Your judgments to Yaakov and Your Torah to Israel." These very kohanim went forth to fight the battle of Hashem. They laid down their very lives to uphold the continuance of mitzvah-observance and the authority of Torah in the midst of the people in its pure form, all intact. They succeeded in reinstating the light of the Torah which emanates from the original Divine dictum of "Let there be light." This light succeeded in repulsing the darkness of the Greeks and was victorious over them in restoring the crown to its rightful place.

We are too limited and puny to fathom the hidden facets, the inner workings of the Torah, but Chazal already said that the Menorah and procedure of lighting it in the Beis Hamikdosh incorporated the secret of the segulah power of the Torah's light. The Menorah has the power to attract the bountiful light which is emitted from Above and draw it to the world below; this is the very light which is secreted within the Torah.

The Rashbam writes in Parshas Emor a reason why the portion about the Menorah was repeated there. It is to add the aspect that it be "opposite the Table." The light of the Menorah is designed to illuminate the Shulchan. This principle should reflect itself in the Jew's daily life — that the light of the Torah shed its light and influence upon a person's table and upon all of his everyday activities.

Therefore, during the war which the Greeks waged against the light of the Torah, there was a necessity to bolster and reinforce the power of Torah to be able to illuminate the darkness. This is why the miracle of the oil which took place in the Beis Hamikdosh occurred in purity and holiness, with uncontaminated oil that still bore the seal of the Kohen Godol. This served to strengthen the influence of the light of the Torah in its purity throughout the world.

We can now also understand the matter of lighting candles on Chanukah throughout the successive generations even though we verbally only acknowledge and thank Hashem for the miracle of the military victory against the Greeks. The Al Hanissim prayer which was ordained by the Sages only mentions the military victory of the righteous against the wicked who sought to uproot the Torah etc. But the root of the great impact of the light of the Torah and its victory was empowered by the Menorah in the Mikdosh, which symbolizes the Torah and its illumination. Therefore it, too, was privy to a miracle. The mitzvah is to learn and know the root of the matter and to publicize it at large.

We learn in Midrash Rabbah, Parshas Behaalosecha that Aharon HaKohen was dismayed when he saw that he had no portion in the sacrifices which all the tribal princes brought at the dedication of the Mishkon. Hashem appeased him, saying, "Your portion is greater than theirs, for your candlelighting will continue for all generations." The Ramban states there that even though the Beis Hamikdosh was destroyed and the lighting of the candles discontinued, still the commandment of lighting Chanukah candles persists throughout the generations. In Zayis Raanan, it includes the mitzvah on lighting Shabbos candles, too.

This is because the power hidden in the Chanukah candles incorporates the influence of the light of the Torah, just like the candles of the Mikdosh and this too is the influential power of the Shabbos candles. In maseches Shabbos it states that whoever is careful with the Shabbos lights will merit children who are Torah sages. This is from the power of Torah [within them].

When Israel sinned with the golden calf, Moshe said, "Why should You be wrathful with the nation You took out of Egypt . . . " The medrash explains that Moshe Rabbenu's argument was that in Egypt they served idols, and that is why they made the eigel. This somewhat tempers their sin, showing that when they left Egypt they were not completely cleansed from their idolatry; the impression of avodoh zora still lingering within them caused them to sin.

This is why Hashem said: "A pity I didn't continue pouring out My wrath against Egypt and avenging Myself, for then the tikkun would have been complete, and then the Jews would not have erred in the eigel." This, however, will be corrected with the coming of Moshiach.

Just as the miracle of Chanukah occurred in those days through the self-sacrifice of the Chashmonaim, and through the light of the Torah that emanated from the candles in the Beis Hamikdosh, so too have Chazal determined that this season in time is propitious for the intensifying of the light over darkness.

By lighting the Chanukah candles, we draw upon us the light of the Torah in great bounty to illuminate the darkness in the hearts and to be successful in Torah study, in yiras Shomayim, avodas Hashem and to have a portion in the G-d of Israel and cleave unto Him all the more.

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